Saturday, February 28, 2009

License Plate options for Classic or Antique Vehicles
By Rod Hemmick

For many people, part of the pride of ownership of a Classic or Antique vehicle or Street Rod is being able to display license plates on their vehicle that are not the “standard current issue” type that you find on every other car on the road.

Being able to have a special license plate that identifies your vehicle as a “Classic” or “Antique” vehicle is a nice way to show the pride that you take in your vintage vehicle. Many states, including Texas even allow the use of license plates to be registered on your vehicle that are the same year as your vehicle. This is commonly referred to as a Year of Manufacture (or YOM) license plate. For example, if you own a 1932 vehicle, you can register actual 1932 license plates on your vehicle. For many, this is the “ultimate” license plate to display on their vehicle which can be a finishing touch to the authenticity of your special ride.

Since each State has different laws regarding what type of license plates can be issued to Antique and Classic vehicles, there is no one single set of rules on how to get specialty (including YOM) license plates for your vehicle. Furthermore, it is always best to check with the proper authorities in your state as the final authority on these laws.

We will begin this series with the laws governing the issuance of Antique and Classic license plates for the State of Texas. In future articles, we will be covering these same laws as they apply to other states, as requested by our readers. It is important to keep in mind that this group of articles will be applying to the laws for the State of Texas only and should not be considered as a guideline for requirements for other states.

In the State of Texas, your vehicle must be at least 25 years old in order to qualify for special license plates and can be registered as a “Classic” or “Antique” vehicle, depending on your plans for driving your vehicle on public roads. The types of vehicles that qualify are passenger cars, trucks and motorcycles, and you can even register a vintage travel trailer with “Classic” plates.

In this series of articles we will begin by explaining the requirements for registering your vehicle as either a “Classic” or “Antique” vehicle. This will include how to get YOM license plates registered on your vehicle as well. To clarify, Year of Manufacture license plates are not a third category but rather you can opt to use YOM license plates under both the “Classic” and “Antique” registrations instead of using the currently issued Classic or Antique specialty plates. Links to Texas Department of Transportation website for forms and additional information are listed below.

Antique Vehicle Registration – A passenger car, truck or motorcycle that is 25 or more years old and is used exclusively for exhibition, club activities, parades, and other functions of public interest. The vehicle will in no case be used for regular transportation and will not carry advertising. A vehicle in route to and from a location for routine maintenance is allowed.

Applicants that have license plates, which are the same year as the vehicle may use those plates in lieu of Antique License Plates issued by the county. If the application is mailed, the applicant MUST have the license plates examined at their local County Tax Office before submitting the application. The license plates must be Texas license plates, the same year as the year model of the antique vehicle, be in good readable condition, and have the correct color scheme. A current valid inspection sticker is not required on your vehicle if it is registered as an Antique vehicle. Antique license plates are issued for five year periods. If your application is approved, you will receive a set of Antique License plates or a tab to attach to your YOM plates.

Classic Vehicle Registration - A passenger car, truck, motorcycle or travel trailer that is 25 or more years old may be registered as a Classic Vehicle. Vehicles must be fully registered like any other vehicle, which includes having an annual safety inspection done on the vehicle and displaying a current inspection sticker. Vehicles registered as Classic Vehicles may operate on any roadway just as a normal modern vehicle and may carry advertising. The same rules apply for YOM license plates for Classic Vehicle registration as described under the Antique Vehicle registration section.

Classic Vehicle plates must be renewed every year the same as standard license plates.

Year of Manufacture license plates – May be used in lieu of Antique or Classic plates and must be in good readable original condition or restored and must be the original color scheme and be the same year as vehicle.

Original 1936 license plate in good readable condition:

License plate professionally restored in correct color scheme as original:

The following link for the Texas Department of Transportation has information on special license plates for vintage vehicles. There is a separate “Antique and Classic” link on this page for each type of registration (i.e.: Classic Auto, Classic Motorcycle, etc.). Costs for each type of plate are listed as well as a link to download the necessary form for registration as well as address information for each County if you plan to mail in your registration paperwork. A fax number and instructions are also listed.

Under the links for Classic Auto, Classic Truck, Classic Motorcycle and Classic Travel Trailer, there is an option to order a personalized plate and even a search box to determine if your desired personalization is available. If ordering by mail, there is a section to include the standard fee and also the fee for a personalized plate.
Forms for these plates may also be downloaded from the following Texas Department of Transportation link. Click on the “Antique and Classic Vehicles” link at the top of this page:
If you have a specific question or problem you can reach the Texas Department of Transportation’s “Specialty License Plates” office at 512-374-5010. Be sure to get the name of the person that you spoke with, especially if they were helpful and/or knowledgeable about the registration process.

In summary, the basic guidelines for registering your vintage vehicle with “Classic” “Antique” or “Year of Manufacture” license plates are as follows:

1. Vehicle must be at least 25 years old.
2. If you are registering “Year of Manufacture” license plates, they must be the same year as the vehicle being registered and must be authentic license plates that were made by the State. (Reproduction license plates are not allowed).
3. Passenger car and truck license plates were issued in pairs for all years except 1945 and 1946 when only a single license plate was issued. This means that if you are registering a vehicle with “Year of Manufacture” license plates, you must have BOTH plates (unless the vehicle is a 1945 of 1946 vintage vehicle).
4. The license plates must be in good readable condition and they can be restored if they are not in good enough condition. The license plates can have some holes in them and/or some rusted areas, but the readability of the plates cannot be compromised by these holes or rusted areas.
5. The license plates must be the same color scheme as they were when originally issued.
6. If you are registering your vehicle as a “Classic Vehicle” for daily use, the vehicle must carry a current safety inspection sticker and proof of insurance is required.

A note about truck license plates: Prior to 1925, both passenger cars and trucks shared the same license plate, there was not a special license plate for trucks. In 1925, a different plate was issued to trucks, but they did not carry the word “Truck” on them. Instead they carried the work “COM” of them which stood for “Commercial”. These 1925 “COM” plates were a different color scheme than the 1925 passenger car plates. So if you are looking for license plates for your 1931 Ford Model A pick-up truck, you would need to have a pair of 1931 “CM” plates for your vehicle.
From the period from 1925 through 1942 “Truck” plates carried either “COM” or “CM” on them designating them as “Commercial” license plates. Due to the metal shortage created by WWII, small metal tabs were used in Texas in 1943 and 1944 to re-validate the 1942 plates. (Future articles will cover the complete history of Texas license plates so stay tuned). In 1945 the “COM” was dropped and the work “Truck” finally appeared on the license plates and remains to this day.

Note: According to the State, if you are registering a vintage truck, you must have either “CM” or “Truck” YOM license plates (depending on the year of your vehicle). You cannot register passenger car license plates to a truck.

While there have been some YOM passenger car license plates issued to vintage trucks, and you may have seen vintage trucks with YOM passenger car license plates, this is an oversight by the county that issued the plates. There are rumors going around that it is ok to register YOM passenger car license plates on a vintage truck, and it is even reported as ok by some web sites, but if the county where you get your plates registered is familiar with the rules governing the registration of YOM plates, they will not approve YOM passenger car license plates for use on a truck.

If you are planning on using original “Year of Manufacture” license plates for your vehicle and you do not have your plates yet, here are some guidelines to consider when looking for a suitable set of plates:

1. The “straighter the better” – plates that are badly dented or bent can be more difficult and costly to restore and generally will not look as good when restored as a nice “straight” pair of plates.
2. Avoid plates with serious rust damage if possible – Light surface rust is fine, but plates that are rusted to the point of being brittle or have parts missing due to rust damage (i.e.: one corner rusted off) can be a real challenge and very costly to restore. Also if the State feels that this rust damage can compromise the plate’s readability, they will not register the plates. Plates with “saw toothed” rust damage along the edges of plate are hard to repair and can cause problems when restored.
3. Extra holes in a plate are ok as long as they do not compromise the plate’s readability. These can be left alone or repaired during restoration.
4. If the plates need to be restored you can do them yourself (if you are up to the challenge) or you can have a professional restoration service do the plates for you.

If you elect to have your plates professionally restored it can be well worth the cost as a nicely restored pair of license plates can be the finishing touch to a nicely restored vehicle. A poorly done or very “amateur” set of restored plates, while they may be able to pass the State’s registration requirements, may not look so good and can even detract from the looks of a nicely restored vehicle.

We use and recommend Rod Hemmick for license plate restoration. Rod has over 15 years experience in restoring license plates and is also a has been member of the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA) since 1981. He is very knowledgeable about the types and colors of Texas license plates and has even been used as a reference by the State of Texas in one of their publications on the History of Texas License Plates. Rod has also agreed to help friends and customers of Motorheads with any questions they may have. He has a large inventory of YOM plates and may have the year you need for your vehicle. If he does not have the year you are looking for, he can advise you on ways to find the plates you need.

For information or quotes on having your license plates restored by Rod Hemmick, please e-mail him at:

Editor’s Note: We hope you have enjoyed the first installment of articles on classic car license plates. Our next article will appear next month - Andrea

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